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Is 'The Duchess of Malfi' about love or power?

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Is 'The Duchess of Malfi' about love or power? In the play 'The Duchess of Malfi', John Webster explores several themes which include both love and power, and in this instance both appear to be inextricably linked. For these reasons, one cannot define whether power or love is the defining essence of the play, but it can be argued as to which one is predominant. The only characters who appear to encapsulate any kind of true love are foremost Antonio and the Duchess, whose relationship is maintained for a substantial period before it is thwarted by the corruption of their surroundings. The theme of power, however, is far more complicated in that each character experiences the use of power, or becomes a victim as a result of the abuse of power. This includes the concept of power between men and women, those of different social statuses, and the use of knowledge as a tool to gain power, mainly through secrecy. The main conflict of power is shown in the relationships between the Duchess and her brothers. ...read more.


Another exploration of power is through the secrecy involved in the play, and how the characters effectively gain a certain amount of power by knowing something that other characters don't. The secret relationship between Antonio and the Duchess gives them both power in terms of its effect on the other characters, particularly Ferdinand. Antonio has a certain amount of power over Ferdinand as the relationship is making him angry, yet he has the power to stop it. Bosola also tries to use knowledge to his advantage as he hopes that in exchange for the spying he does for Ferdinand, he will receive not only power, but also respect. Throughout the play, love never appears to come into its own form as power does, but it is always tainted with the corruption of the society; the only real love between any two characters has to be hidden for many years for fear of life. Even when the theme of love is more explicit to the audience, it is still mixed with the theme of power. ...read more.


One instance where perhaps love does take precedence over power is when Ferdinand has finally discovered who has fathered her children, and instead of killing her, he tells her to kill herself. "Die then, quickly!" Ferdinand clearly has the power and motivation to kill the Duchess, yet he refrains from doing so, perhaps because his love for her is too strong. Before the 'battle' comes to it's eventual end whereby love loses, and the Duchess is killed, she still manages to maintain her power and dignity to the very end of her life, showing her determined and strong character. "I am Duchess of Malfi still." The question of whether the play is about love or power can never be answered, as it can never be only one of them. It would initially appear that power is dominant, as all the love is destroyed, and even those who hold power are brought to their deaths, drowning in their own corruption and greed. Only one relationship in the play shows true love, and this leads to the ultimate death of all of the leading characters. However, it is also important to note the effect each theme has on the other, and how they complement each other. - 1 - ...read more.

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